Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 – 1725)

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 – 1725) was a composer of the Baroque era and founder of the Neapolitan school of Opera. The Baroque era is considered to have culminated with the work of Handel and Bach in 1750. Alessandro Scarlatti was representative of the mature Baroque era. He is considered to have bridged the Baroque era and the succeeding Classical era of music. His opera experience certainly influenced his sacred music, particularly the oratorio. The oratorio also was dramatic, but without staging and acting, as in opera. A device that he used in both is the recitative, which precedes the aria and introduces its subject matter gives it setting rather than having great melodic interest in its own right; neither had it costumes or stage settings. I understand that it might have included some narration. We will further discuss and demonstrate that in our discussion of Handel and his Messiah.
Alessandro Scarlatti also composed upward to 500 chamber sonatas, some of which are included, below.

I must say that I am exceptionally grateful for the materials that have been made available through YouTube, which make exceptional performance resources.  At age 64, as I write this, it is remarkably different from the time in which I grew up, went to school and taught music. What an immense and beautiful resource!!

Vocal sacred music
Salve Regina, op. 2 Nr. 10

Cieca Talpa

The above link is provided not only because it is sacred music of the Baroque period, but, also, for its sound musical performance, its beauty, particularly that of the vocalist, Roberta Invernizzi, it’s demonstration of the increasing role of instruments in sacred music, its also demonstrates the impact of instrumental music upon Baroque composition for the human voice, its rhythmic and harmonic drive.

At the above site there is also a comment which, while it may be somewhat critical in its introduction, more articulately and expressively states my own observation, above:

Only Alessandro Scarlatti’s talent and intellect could combine such operatic techniques into a sacred work and still produce something lofty and sincere. How much Handel owes this man! Also “strings are not bad either” – not bad for some of the finest baroque musicians in Europe…

Salve Regina
I had never heard of the name of Roberta Invernizzi until I located this clip on YouTube of the performance of Cieca Talpa, above. Not only is her performance remarkably beautiful and artistically sound, but it demonstrates, also, the belcanto, or “beautiful singing,” style characteristic of the Baroque era.  The composition has a contrasting section in which Scarlatti uses the human voice as an instrument with immense rhythmic drive. In this case, one can also observe the dramatic contrasts (as in the visual artistic use of chiaroscuro ) and ornamentation, both of which are stylistically characteristic of the Baroque era.

The oratorios:
Sedecia, Re Di Gerusalemme

This oratorio has an extensive overture as is common to that form in the later Baroque as is perhaps best recognized in Handel’s Messiah. It is all the more interesting because it features two countertenors and a soprano, including a duet of soprano and counter tenor. The above site includes the following tribute, beautiful in its own right:

I do not know when this was performed but I am so happy to see the early performance of Philippe Jaroussky when he was a budding new face as a CT. He has shown his extraordinary talent already here. How much he has grown since this performance is really amazing!! His voice stronger, fuller and much more beautiful now. Thank you for this precious video.

I also include the following YouTube video post that is entitled, “Cecilia Bartoli – Castrati” I do not know Cecilia Bartoli other than by name, but this clip appears to be the performance of a woman who looks similar to other YouTube videos of Cecilia Bartoli, rather than that of a castrati.

A castrati (to be distinguished from the counter tenor) was created by a deforming practice common to the Baroque era, It also risked Joseph Haydn’s manhood as a choir boy some 150 years later, which would likely diverted his compositional talents. As with a steer, the body developed a large vocal instrument, the vocal instrument being the entire body, castration during adolescence tended to freeze the vocal cords in their development while permitting the body to mature, preserving the voice at the stage of development when the operation was performed, allowing for remarkably powerful sopranos and altos, depending upon when they underwent the procedure. Besides being a beautiful performance (there are so many available on YouTube, that I fear that “beautiful” or “remarkable” gives none of them justice), the selection below is illustrative of both the Baroque instrumental treatment of the voice and of belcanto singing. I do not even know whether this is Scarlatti, although it seems to be consistent with his style:

Instrumental works
The focus of this series of posts is sacred music of the church. That tends to be liturgical, however in the latter part of the Renaissance instrumental music was increasingly incorporated in sacred music, particularly relating to the Protestant Reformation, and that, first with the organ and then with other instruments. The Gabrieli’s increasingly incorporated instruments in their church music; that increased in the Baroque Period. That increase in the use of instruments during the Baroque Period, also influence the technical use of the human voice as an instrument, both in the intricacies of the line and trills.

Concerto for Recorder in A minor

I include the Concerto for Recorder both for its music and for the visuals inserted into the video which include photographs of Scarlatti, the instruments of the time, and the settings, historically and currently.
Concerto grosso n°2 en ut mineur

Cello Sonata No.1


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